Thailand unveiled a roadmap to revive its tourism-reliant economy by gradually scrapping a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors, joining a growing list of nations in making cross-border travel easier ahead of the year-end holiday season. The baht surged the most in more than two weeks.
Visitors from 10 low-risk countries including the U.S., China, Singapore, Germany and the U.K. will not be required to undergo isolation on arrival from Nov. 1, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said in an address to the nation on Monday. The list of travelers eligible for quarantine waiver will be further expanded from December, he said, adding the government will also consider allowing restaurants to resume the sale of alcohol from Dec. 1.
With countries such as Singapore, Australia and the U.K. moving to ease travel curbs on international travelers in recent weeks, Thailand could no longer delay its reopening, Prayuth said.
“With these developments, we must act quickly but still cautiously, and not miss the opportunity to entice some of the year-end and new year holiday season travelers during the next few months to support the many millions of people who earn a living from our tourism, travel and entertainment sectors as well as the many other related sectors,” Prayuth said.
Prayuth’s government is pushing ahead with a “living with Covid-19” strategy like many of the tourism- and trade-reliant nations around the world after the pandemic ravaged their economies. Thailand saw foreign tourist arrivals plunge to 73,932 in the first eight months of this year, from almost 40 million visitors who generated more than $60 billion in revenue in 2019.
The baht, Asia’s worst-performing major currency this year, rallied as much as 1.2% to 33.491 to a U.S. dollar on Tuesday, the biggest intraday gain since Aug. 24.
“All that visitors will need do is to show that they are Covid-free at their time of travel with an RT-PCR test undertaken before they leave their home country, and do a test in Thailand, after which they will be free to move around Thailand in the same way that any Thai citizen can do,” Prayuth said.
The move to ease barriers for tourists may not change the forecasts for arrivals this year but will help lift investor sentiments, according to Nattaporn Triratanasirikul, an economist at Kasikornbank’s research unit. She expects 150,000 foreign tourist arrivals this year.
“We don’t expect to see an influx of tourists after reopening as most tourists plan trips in advance,” Nattaporn said. “But this should help boost the sentiment and confidence.”
While the decision may come with some risk of a resurgence in the outbreak, the government will closely monitor and contain any flare-up in infections, the prime minister said.
“We will have to track the situation very carefully, and see how to contain and live with that situation because I do not think that the many millions who depend on the income generated by the travel, leisure and entertainment sector can possibly afford the devastating blow of a second lost new year holiday period,” Prayuth said.
The Southeast Asian nation previously delayed and adjusted its tourism-reopening plans several times due to low vaccination rates and concerns that the easing of rules would cause infections and hospitalizations to surge again. The program began in July in the resort island of Phuket, after a high number of vaccine doses were delivered and administered. The number of new cases have fallen to around 10,000 a day from a peak of almost 25,000 in August.
After a sluggish start, Thailand has also ramped up its vaccination drive in recent months with 48.7% of the population receiving at least one dose. The government is all set to exceed its target of inoculating 70% of the residents by the end of the year, Prayuth said.
“The threat of a large scale, lethal spread of the virus in Thailand is now diminishing, even though the risk of resurgence is always there, and even though there are still serious constraints on our hospital and medical staff capacities,” Prayuth said. “The time has come for us to ready ourselves to face the coronavirus and live with it as with other endemic infections and diseases, much as we have learned to live with other diseases with treatments and vaccinations.”
Bloomberg’s Lee Miller contributed to this report.